Apparently, it’s a rose

By • Published: February 2nd, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Writer Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”

Former Vice President Al Gore said, “It is what it is.”

That’s fine. But researchers studying how we interpret visual information want to know how our brains know that a rose is what it is.

Especially when the rose isn’t where it usually is.

Neuroscientists with MIT’s McGovern Institute say that familiarity is essential for recognizing objects in the world.

Whether a rose grows in a garden or decorates a blouse, people recognize it as a rose because they have learned that patterns and shapes tend to remain constant, no matter the setting.

To test this idea, researchers monitored the electrical activity in monkeys’ brains as they watched a virtual world that did not following the rules.

For example, a Dalmatian from a distance was altered to look like a rhinoceros as it came closer on a computer screen. The monkeys didn’t change behavior, but the brain cells they use to recognize objects were confused.

Neuroscientists suggest that the brain learns to solve the problem of object recognition through its vast experience in the natural world.

Because we know through experience that objects don’t suddenly change identities, our brains tell us any two patterns flashing before the retina in rapid succession likely arise from the same object.

We reason that the object has moved, not that it morphed into another form.

It cuts the confusion.

Knowing how our brains interpret images is the cornerstone for creating artificial vision systems — which at the moment don’t come close to the interpretative apparatus we were all born with.

We don’t need a logarithm to say swirls of icing on a birthday cake are roses.